“A Minute Passed” – The Problem of Prediction

There is an old comedy sketch by Monty Python’s Eric Idle that neatly lampoons the slippery art of predicting future circumstances and events. Although the subject of Idle’s monologue is anticipatory sexual tension and not divination, the notion of waiting in vain for something to happen is all too familiar.

“A minute passed. Then another. Then, another minute. Then… another minute passed. Then another minute passed. And another. A further minute passed quickly, followed by another minute, when suddenly, a different minute passed, followed by another different minute. And another. And yet another further different minute. A minute passed. I glanced at my watch. It was a minute past. This was it. A minute passed. After a moment, another minute passed. I waited a minute while a minute passed quickly past. And then, a minute which seemed to last an hour but was only a minute . . . passed”

There are tarot enthusiasts who steer well away from prediction of the fortune-telling sort, contenting themselves with using their skill with the cards for self-awareness and personal development. This is an outgrowth of the Jungian psychological overlay that has been placed on the practice of tarot since the middle of the 20th Century. There is certainly nothing wrong with it, but it leaves a major reservoir of analytical potential untapped. Others happily continue the legacy of their mystical forebears without placing too fine a point on absolute accuracy, observing the dictum of astrologers: “The stars impel, they don’t compel.” In other words, they assume that predicting the future is a matter of emerging trends, tendencies and possibilities, not unavoidable certainties, and focus on empowering their sitters to prepare for whatever may come of the testimony in the cards. The reader’s credibility is not on the line to the same extent as saying “At 3:00 PM on Wednesday you will meet a tall, dark stranger at the market.”

Then there is a third group of philosophically-inclined practitioners who come down somewhere in the middle, a population I count myself among after decades in the pursuit of self-understanding through esoteric study in a relative vacuum, for long stretches undisturbed  by the opportunity to read the cards for the public. In this mode, divination is an abstract endeavor that seeks to illuminate the hidden side of the cosmic ledger, aiming for objective situational awareness and developmental insight that may or may not align with the desires or concerns of the human subject. Empowerment here is not of the affirmative or “enabling” sort,  but more impersonal: “the train is leaving and you can decide whether or not you want to board it.”

But correctly surmising “when” is the rub, a question that sitters invariably want answered. There is no reliable yardstick for determining the schedule of events, although many different angles have been tried. The context of the question and the nature of the querent’s circumstances can make it easy to say with some confidence “not tomorrow and not next year,” but precisely flagging one week or month and not another is a dicey proposition. It reminds me of a situation I encountered long ago in the military: we were kept in a constant state of high anxiety by the level of readiness we had to maintain for an upcoming headquarters inspection that kept getting rescheduled at the last minute. After two or three delays we figured it was a case of “crying wolf” and became cynical about the threat. Tarot readers can find themselves in the same predicament, whether the outlook in a reading is encouraging or cautionary. Sometimes the closest we can come is “it will probably happen eventually if you heed the advice of the cards” or “never if you don’t change your ways.” The mid-term estimate is anybody’s guess, but we owe it to our sitters to give it our best shot (of course couched in as many caveats as we can muster without looking like we’re dodging the question).

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